What the new Omicron COVID variant means for travel to the UK right now

Nov 30, 2021

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This article will be updated as more details emerge. As always, COVID travel restrictions are ever-changing and we would also recommend checking official government websites ahead of travel to ensure your journey is as well-prepared and stress-free as possible. 

All travellers entering the U.K. will be required to take PCR tests following new restrictions announced by the PM on Saturday.

The news follows the announcement of 10 new countries being added to the red list after seeing rises in cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant. Thus far, the countries added include South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

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What are the new rules for entering the U.K. from abroad?

As per the latest restrictions, anybody arriving from a nation placed on the U.K’s red list must register for hotel quarantine for 11 nights. Staying in a quarantine hotel could see costs as high as £2,285 and includes both two PCR tests (day two and day 8) and meals during the stay, reports The Independent. 

If you are entering the U.K. from other countries not included on the red list – with the exception of the Republic of Ireland – you will face different requirements depending upon vaccination status. After 4am on 30 November, fully-vaccinated travellers who arrive in the U.K. will be required to book a PCR test to be taken either on arrival or within the first two days of entering the U.K. 

The changes mean that the much faster, and cheaper, lateral flow tests will no longer be accepted after the rules change on 30 November at 4am. This will see increased costs added to your travel as PCR tests become a compulsory requirement. 

The new rules will be reviewed in three weeks time, at which they will either be relaxed, extended or have further restrictions.

Related: How to find an affordable, reliable and fast Day 2 PCR test

In addition to taking the more expensive PCR test, vaccinated travellers must self-isolate once they arrive in the U.K. until they receive a negative test result for COVID-19. They will also be required to complete a passenger locator form 48-hours of entering the country. 

Arrivals from the Common Travel Area (which includes the Channel Islands, Ireland and Isle of Man) will not require either testing or quarantine. 

Travellers who are unvaccinated will be required to take both pre-departure tests and also take PCR tests on days two and eight after their arrival. In addition, if you fall in this bracket you will need to quarantine for up to 10 days and until at least day eight as a minimum. This is regardless of whether or not you receive a negative result on the day two test. You will, however, be allowed to leave quarantine if your day eight test is negative, or after day 10 of quarantine – whichever of the two is earliest.


Do children need to test and quarantine?

If you are travelling with children aged 17 or under, they will not need to quarantine upon arriving in the U.K., regardless of whether they have received their full vaccination. They will also not be required to take a COVID test before they travel, however, they must take a test either on arrival or before the end of day two. 

After 4am, 30 November this test must be a PCR, and lateral flow tests will no longer be accepted.

How do I prove my vaccination status for travel?

To be classed as fully vaccinated you must have official proof that you have received your double-vaccination and/or booster jab. Your inoculation must have taken place at least 14 days before arriving in England. The day of your final dose counts as day zero. 

Proof of vaccination will be counted provided it has been issued by one of the following:

  • The U.K. vaccination programme.
  • The United Nations vaccine programme for staff and volunteers.
  • An oversees vaccination programme with approved proof of vaccination for travel to the U.K.

If you are a resident of the U.K. you can prove your vaccination status by any of the following: NHS COVID Pass for England and Wales; NHS Scotland COVID Status app; or the COVIDCert NI if you are in Northern Ireland. 

If you are not fully vaccinated, you may still fall under the same rules as vaccinated travellers if the following applies to you:

  • You are under 18, and travelling with a fully vaccinated adult.
  • You are taking part in an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial in the U.K or U.S. or a phase two or three vaccine trill that is regulated by EMA or SRA.
  • You are unable to receive a COVID-19 vaccination due to medical reasons, approved by a clinician under the U.K.’s medical exemption process.

What happens if I test positive for COVID-19 when I arrive in the U.K, my test is inconclusive, or my test results don’t come back?

If you test positive when you arrive in the U.K. you will need to isolate for 10 full days. This means that somebody testing positive who arrived in the U.K. on 1 December would need to quarantine until midnight Saturday 11 December.

Should your test be inconclusive you would need to isolate as above for 10 full days, though you can take further private tests and will be allowed to leave isolation once you receive a negative test result. 

In the event of your PCR test results being delayed the government advises the following: “You must self-isolate until your test result is known or until day 14 after arrival, whichever is sooner.”

Will a lateral flow test still count if you ordered it before the deadline?

Not after the rules change at 4am on 30 November. From this point, lateral flow tests upon entering the U.K. will no longer be accepted for arrivals. 

For absolute clarity here, the U.K. government says: “After 4am Tuesday 30 November 2021 lateral flow tests will no longer be accepted and all travellers arriving into the U.K. will be required to book and take COVID-19 PCR tests.”

If you have already booked a lateral flow test but it has not arrived yet, certain testing companies will allow you to upgrade your test to the now compulsory PCR tests. However, do check the terms and conditions of the company you are using to ensure this is possible. If your test has already arrived it is unlikely in most scenarios that you will be given a refund, or an upgrade to a PCR test. 

Do I need to take the test on day two of arriving in the U.K. or can I take it earlier?

You can take your test at any point from your arrival in the U.K. up to the end of the second full day. 

PCR tests take longer to analyse than the cheaper lateral flow alternatives. We would advise that if you can, you should try to take your COVID test at the airport once you enter the U.K., with certain airport testing centres being able to process results within three hours. If your test comes back negative at this point you would be able to leave quarrantine right away.

What is classed as self-isolation?

According to the U.K. government, once you arrive in the U.K. you must travel straight to the place that you are staying. Should this destination be too far away to reach after just one day of travel you are permitted to stay somewhere en route overnight if essential. In this instance, you should only use public transport if you have no other option.

Once at the place you are staying, the government says: “You must quarantine in one place for the full quarantine period, where you can have food and other necessities delivered.” This means no leaving self-isolation until you meet the above requirements. 

It may be possible to leave quarantine early if you pay for a private COVID-19 test through the Test to Release scheme. 

What if I’m due to leave the U.K. before my self-isolation period is over?

At present, you are still able to leave the U.K. within this 10 day isolation period provided that you go directly to either the airport or port that you are travelling from. You will also still be required to take a PCR test, and meet local travel requirements for the place you are visiting. It would be wise to check this in advance of making your journey to ensure that you meet all mandatory requirements, and contact official websites for further advice should the information be unclear.

Bottom Line

If you’re fully vaccinated you will be required to take a PCR test within the first two days of arriving in the U.K. as of Tuesday 30 November 2021. Upon taking the test you will need to quarantine for up to 10 days or until you’re able to provide a negative test result for COVID-19. These rules will be in place for at least three weeks and are likely to add additional costs or planning considerations to any Christmas travels that requires flying to the U.K., either as a visitor or a returning resident.

For those that are unvaccinated, you will be required to quarantine for at least eight days and this is likely to be a recurring theme outside of the U.K. as more and more countries adapt their current restrictions to combat the new Omicron variant.

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